Last summer, senior Ashley VanBuskirk studied abroad in Kosovo with the journalism department intending to gain further experience in the field. However, she came away with something drastically different. After spending time in the city, VanBuskirk’s interactions with the Kosovo residents kindled the idea for her own stationery company – Flora.
Flora Stationery, which offers journals, academic planners and notecards, is a company that will put all proceeds toward scholarships to help fund education for women in Eastern Europe.
VanBuskirk’s last week in Kosovo sparked the idea for Flora. She met a young woman named Ema who inspired VanBuskirk with her positive attitude, even as her family had been on welfare following her dad’s service in the Kosovo war in 1999. High unemployment rates and many other obstacles made affording Emma’s education very difficult.
VanBuskirk was able to attend the Kosovo program with the help of five different scholarships. Due to her success in finding these scholarships, VanBuskirk said she believed she would be able to find something similar for Ema, as the University of Pristina, where Ema would attend, cost 250 Euros per semester for a part-time student at 50 Euros for a full-time student. In contrast, the average cost of a student attending an in-state public institution in the United States is close to $9,000. After a long search, VanBuskirk was unsuccessful.
“I didn’t have the funds to support her, because that would be unsustainable and unrealistic, so I felt there had to be a more sustainable way to support her,” she said. “So this is where my sister [Victoria] and I came up with the idea to sell school related supplies to raise money for a scholarship fund.”
The scholarships will allow young women to better their lives and receive a degree in their own community, as many women are forced to receive an education elsewhere.
Junior Elizabeth Arington, Flora’s social media manager, signed onto VanBuskirk’s team after learning about the project in her Social Entrepreneurship class.
“I love Flora’s mission and everything it is doing for the women in Kosovo,” she said. “I love being a part of something that has such a vast opportunity for making a huge difference.”
VanBuskirk and her team recently launched a pilot program to test out Flora’s potential success, where they sold 150 journals. For every 18 journals purchased, a semester of tuition for a full-time student is fully funded. It is estimated that fully funded semesters from the pilot program will account for 3.6 semesters, and partially funded semesters will account for 7.2 semesters. The projected scholarship funding is $1,137.50 and one young woman will be fully supported for almost two academic years as a result of this program.
Upon reaching out to a contact in Kosovo, VanBuskirk received numerous amounts of watercolor prints from Kosovo students to be used for the stationery. After that, Flora began development last October through an affiliation with a company at Grove City College in Pennsylvania. Venture Lab, a company that helps young entrepreneurs, also helped in the process, and all funding was donated.
VanBuskirk believes that all of the outside help has been crucial in establishing Flora. As she and her sister are not business majors, all of the assistance they have received has been a big help.
“I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’ve loved every part of it. It’s been very difficult at times and very frustrating, but I’ve grown so much as a person and a student through all of this,” she said. “It’s been one of the greatest experiences during my time as an undergraduate.”
If the opportunity presented itself, VanBuskirk would love to continue with Flora full-time and has already begun imagining her future with the company.
“I don’t think this will ever be something I stop pursuing, and helping young women like Ema is what I’m passionate about,” she said. “I don’t know what it will become in the future, so maybe I’ll work for a company with the same mission. I would highly recommend every student to pursue a project that they’re passionate about.”
In order to market Flora’s mission to a broader audience, VanBuskirk and her team have launched a social media campaign.
“As of now, we have reached over 750 followers on our social media sites, and we project further growth as time progresses,” Arington said.
If interested in purchasing a Flora Stationery product, visit Florastationery.com for more information.